Why Every College Should Start Crowdsourcing
Michelle Lindblom is a Communications Associate at JG Visual, an Internet strategy company that works with organizations to develop and implement their online presence. You can connect with Michelle on the JG Visual Facebook Page and on Twitter.
Just like all large organizations, universities have their fair share of problems. These problems come in all shapes and sizes and can sometimes seem unrelenting. The usual method of attack for solving these problems involves sending out surveys, forming committees, setting up forums or hiring consultants. For any college that craves a chance from the norm, it may be time to turn directly to the community for a solution.
This is where crowdsourcing comes in. Crowdsourcing refers to the notion of outsourcing to a crowd (hence the name). Essentially, when an organization needs a solution to a problem, instead of investing time and money into generating a solution internally, the organization opens up the problem to a crowd of people for mass collaboration. This method of decision-making is a perfect fit for universities. Read on to find out why.
1. The Ready Availability of a Crowd
Crowdsourcing is a great fit for the unique setting of a university. The student body on any college campus provides a group of people with untapped talent looking to learn, build their resumes, get involved and maybe make a little extra cash. By capitalizing on this talent, universities can give their students great opportunities for real world learning and get quality solutions for their problems (all while building the university name as a forerunning institution that encourages student involvement).
2. Universities Benefit from Crowdsourcing
By solving problems via crowdsourcing, the university gets more than just a quick fix. Some of the extra benefits include:
Quality Solutions: The students know the community and therefore have a better shot at creating solutions that truly fit the community’s needs.
Offer Real World Learning: Students can apply classroom knowledge to real world problems and learn the ins and outs of their chosen fields from a practical perspective.
Student Investment in Community: Student involvement through crowdsourcing can lead individual students to feel more invested in their on campus community and give students pride in their school. (Not to mention that successful graduates who feel connected to their community are more likely to donate money back to their alma mater.)
Positive PR: Increasing student involvement is also important because it will contribute positively to the school’s image. The university has an opportunity to gain a reputation for producing students who can successfully solve practical problems after graduation.
Save Money: Instead of hiring and paying a contractor, the university can let its students problem solve for credit hours. Even if the winner gets a cash prize, crowdsourcing can still be more economical than traditional routes.
3. Students Benefit from Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing also offers a bunch of benefits to the students that participate. For example, crowdsourcing give students real world experience in coming up with creative solutions to important problems. These projects can also help aloof students feel like they belong to a larger community, while engaging them to use their minds and get involved. Crowdsourcing projects can also be a huge boon to a student’s resume. Undergraduates without much work experience can gain real-world examples of their job skills via crowdsourcing and show that they were able to to follow projects through to completion while working with a team of peers.
4. Colleges and Crowdsourcing: An Example
Of course it’s one thing to support crowdsourcing as a solution and another to actually implement it. Crowdsourcing works best when it’s targeted. Broad questions like “What should we do better?” won’t bring in the desired results. Here we’ll walk you through a hypothetical campaign and how to set up an infrastructure for crowdsourcing.
Imagine a university is crowdsourcing a “Going Green Initiative.” The university president tried email surveys, but received a weak response from the student body. Here’s one way to attack the problem:
Divide and conquer. Break the project into pieces to engage the entire student body. For example, designing a logo for art students, a finance contest aimed at business students, a copywriting competition for marketing students, etc.
Market and advertise. You can let your students create their own sites or use an existing platform (like Google Moderator or IdeaJam) to get the project off the ground. Make the project part of daily life such that participation is expected and encouraged.
Choose a winner. You can do this either through an administrative committee or leave the choice up to the students. The former will give you more control, but the latter may truly get the student body engaged, not only in the process but the outcome. Studies show that students are motivated to produce their best work when they know they’ll be judged by their peers. If you’re undecided, you can always go for a hybrid.
Offer fewards. As much as you want to believe in the civic-minded altruism of your student body, rewards always help participation and motivation. You can offer a cash prize, special privileges or class credit hours equivalent to the time commitment of the project.
Crowdsourcing has already proven successful in a university setting. In the fall of 2010, Cal State Fullerton asked its students and staff to propose problems the university should address; and the Chief Technology Officer of Notre Dame has been pushing colleges to crowdsource information-technology help desks since the spring of 2009.
More universities should open up their stuffy cabinets and let students take a crack at solving their problems. It will save them money and give their students real world experiences, all while still solving university problems.